The People We Are Today

Homer, Iliad 1.271-272 [Nestor Speaking]

“And I was fighting among them on my own! No one alive
Of these mortals who live on the earth now could fight with them!”

καὶ μαχόμην κατ’ ἔμ’ αὐτὸν ἐγώ· κείνοισι δ’ ἂν οὔ τις
τῶν οἳ νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπιχθόνιοι μαχέοιτο·

Schol. T+bT ad Il. 1.271a ex

“With those guys”: Centaurs. He introduces all of those who were bested by them so that he will seem to be superior in advice even to those who were stronger. He also doesn’t mention that Peleus was a friend of Agamemnon in order to avoid seeming to criticize Achilles, if his father obeyed him [Agamemnon] in something but he [Achilles] did not.”

κείνοισι: Κενταύροις. | παρεισάγει τοὺς πάντας ἡσσωμένους αὐτοῖς, ἵνα τῇ συμβουλῇ δοκοῖεν καὶ τῶν κρεισσόνων περιγεγενῆσθαι. Πηλέως δὲ οὐκ ἐμνήσθη ὡς ᾿Αγαμέμνονος φίλος, ἵνα μὴ δοκῇ ἐλέγχειν ᾿Αχιλλέα, εἴ γε ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ τι πέπεισται, ὁ δὲ οὔ.

5.302-304 (cf. 20.285-287)

“…and Tydeus’ son grabbed a stone with his hand—
A great effort which two men couldn’t replicate,
The kinds of men mortals are today. Well, he lifted it easily, even by himself”

σμερδαλέα ἰάχων· ὃ δὲ χερμάδιον λάβε χειρὶ
Τυδεΐδης μέγα ἔργον ὃ οὐ δύο γ’ ἄνδρε φέροιεν,
οἷοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσ’· ὃ δέ μιν ῥέα πάλλε καὶ οἶος.

Schol. bT Ad Hom. Il 5.304

“The kinds of people mortals are today.” This means that they are much lower than the men of the heroic age. This distance of time makes the excesses of the heroes more believable.”

ex. οἷοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσι: πολλῷ κατωτέρω τῶν ἡρωϊκῶν ἐστι· διὸ τῷ διαστήματι τοῦ χρόνου πιστοῦται τὰς ὑπεροχὰς τῶν ἡρώων

Il. 12.447-449

“…a rock not even two of the best men of the people
Could heft easily onto a cart from the ground,
The kinds of men mortals are today. He lifted it easily even by himself.”

….· τὸν δ’ οὔ κε δύ’ ἀνέρε δήμου ἀρίστω
ῥηϊδίως ἐπ’ ἄμαξαν ἀπ’ οὔδεος ὀχλίσσειαν,
οἷοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσ’· ὃ δέ μιν ῥέα πάλλε καὶ οἶος.

Important People, oil with pencil on canvas, 134.7 x 170.3 cm, by George Washington Lambert

Blaming Odysseus

Why did Agamemnon set aside right and agree to the sacrifice of his daughter?

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. 224-227.

He let himself become
the sacrificer of his daughter
for a war to help avenge a woman,
and as the first rite in launching the ships.

ἔτλα δ οὖν θυτὴρ γενέ-
σθαι θυγατρός, γυναικοποί-
νων πολέμων ἀρωγὰν
καὶ προτέλεια ναῶν.

Jean Racine (1639-1699), in his adaptation of Iphigenia at Aulis, placed the blame for Agamemnon’s moral waywardness squarely on Odysseus. In other words, Odysseus made him do it:

Racine. Iphigenia.

Agamemnon to attendant (70-78):

I wanted to disband the army.
Odysseus seemed to support my wishes;
He let that first rush of words go unchecked.
But soon he marshaled his cruel techniques:
He conjured for me honor and country;
All the people, the kings, who obey my commands;
The Asian empire promised to Greece;
And how, sacrificing the state for my daughter,
A fameless king, I’d grow old in my household.

Je voulais sur-le-champ congédier l’armée.
Ulysse en apparence approuvant mes discours,
De ce premier torrent laissa passer le cours.
Mais bientôt rappelant sa cruelle industrie,
Il me représenta l’honneur et la patrie,
Tout ce peuple, ces rois à mes ordres soumis,
Et l’empire d’Asie à la Grèce promis.
De quel front immolant tout l’État à ma fille,
Roi sans gloire, j’irais vieillir dans ma famille!

Odysseus to Agamemnon (285-296):

Think! You owe your daughter to Greece:
You’ve promised her to us, and on that promise,
Calchas, whom the Greeks consult daily,
Has foretold the return of unfailing winds.
If what comes contradicts his predictions,
Do you think Calchas will stay silent?
That you can blunt his accusations?
That Greeks will say the gods lied, and not blame you?
Deprived of their sacrifice, who knows what Greeks,
Rightly angry, in their view, might do?
Beware of forcing an enraged people,
My lord, to choose between you and the gods.

Songez-y: Vous devez votre fille à la Grèce:
Vous nous l’avez promise; et, sur cette promesse,
Calchas, par tous les Grecs consulté chaque jour,
Leur a prédit des vents l’infaillible retour.
À ses prédictions si l’effet est contraire,
Pensez-vous que Calchas continue à se taire;
Que ses plaintes, qu’en vain vous voudrez apaiser,
Laissent mentir les Dieux, sans vous en accuser?
Et qui sait ce qu’aux Grecs, frustrés de leur victime,
Peut permettre un courroux qu’ils croiront légitime?
Gardez-vous de réduire un peuple furieux,
Seigneur, à prononcer entre vous, et les Dieux.

Roland Barthes characterizes Racine’s representation of Odysseus this way:

Roland Barthes. On Racine (Editions du Seuil. 1963.105).

“He possesses the traits of what Votaire calls with admiration ‘the great politician’: the sense of collective interest, the objective appreciation of facts and their consequences, the lack of self respect; and he shrouds all his pragmatism in windbag rhetoric and continual blackmail styled as high morals [honor and country].”

“Il possède les traits de ce que Voltaire appelait avec admiration le grand politique: le sens de l’intérêt collectif, l’appréciation objective des faits et de leurs conséquences, l’absence d’amour-propre, enveloppant tout ce pragmatisme d’une rhétorique phraseuse et d’un chantage continu à la grande morale.”

black and white photograph of a line drawing or etching of the philosopher and poet Jean Racine.

19th-century portrait of Racine.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Horses to Die For

Odysseus and Diomedes have learned that King Rhesus, bivouacking with his Thracian contingent, has with him some especially large and handsome horses. The warriors want them:

Homer. Iliad.10.469-493.

“The two advanced through battle arms and black blood,
and pushing on, quickly reached the Thracian force.
The men, spent, were asleep on the ground. Their war gear,
so fine, lay beside them, neatly arranged
in three rows. Each man’s yoked horses stood by him.
Rhesus slept among his men, hard by his fast horses.
They were tied to the chariot’s upper rim.

Odysseus saw him first and pointed:
‘Diomedes, that’s him! And those are the horses
the guy we killed, Dolon, told us about!
Come on! Unleash your awesome force!
Don’t stand here armored for nothing. Untie the horses.
Better still, you kill the men. I’ll deal with the horses.’

He said this. Bright-eyed Athena then inspired Diomedes
with fury: left and right he killed. Awful moans came
from men struck by his sword. The earth flowed red with blood.

Just as a lion coming upon untended flocks
(whether goats or sheep) bears evil in his pounce,
Tydeus’s son coursed through the Thracian force
until he’d killed twelve.

As for artful Odysseus–
whenever Tydeus’s son struck a man with his sword,
Odysseus would drag him aside by the leg,
thinking: this is how the horses with handsome manes
will pass through with ease, their hearts not trembling
trampling on bodies. They aren’t used to that yet.”

τὼ δὲ βάτην προτέρω διά τʼ ἔντεα καὶ μέλαν αἷμα,
αἶψα δʼ ἐπὶ Θρῃκῶν ἀνδρῶν τέλος ἷξον ἰόντες.
οἳ δʼ εὗδον καμάτῳ ἀδηκότες, ἔντεα δέ σφιν
καλὰ παρʼ αὐτοῖσι χθονὶ κέκλιτο εὖ κατὰ κόσμον
τριστοιχί· παρὰ δέ σφιν ἑκάστῳ δίζυγες ἵπποι.
Ῥῆσος δʼ ἐν μέσῳ εὗδε, παρʼ αὐτῷ δʼ ὠκέες ἵπποι
ἐξ ἐπιδιφριάδος πυμάτης ἱμᾶσι δέδεντο.
τὸν δʼ Ὀδυσεὺς προπάροιθεν ἰδὼν Διομήδεϊ δεῖξεν·
οὗτός τοι Διόμηδες ἀνήρ, οὗτοι δέ τοι ἵπποι,
οὓς νῶϊν πίφαυσκε Δόλων ὃν ἐπέφνομεν ἡμεῖς.
ἀλλʼ ἄγε δὴ πρόφερε κρατερὸν μένος· οὐδέ τί σε χρὴ
ἑστάμεναι μέλεον σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἀλλὰ λύʼ ἵππους·
ἠὲ σύ γʼ ἄνδρας ἔναιρε, μελήσουσιν δʼ ἐμοὶ ἵπποι.
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δʼ ἔμπνευσε μένος γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη,
κτεῖνε δʼ ἐπιστροφάδην· τῶν δὲ στόνος ὄρνυτʼ ἀεικὴς
ἄορι θεινομένων, ἐρυθαίνετο δʼ αἵματι γαῖα.
ὡς δὲ λέων μήλοισιν ἀσημάντοισιν ἐπελθὼν
αἴγεσιν ἢ ὀΐεσσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνορούσῃ,
ὣς μὲν Θρήϊκας ἄνδρας ἐπῴχετο Τυδέος υἱὸς
ὄφρα δυώδεκʼ ἔπεφνεν· ἀτὰρ πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεὺς
ὅν τινα Τυδεΐδης ἄορι πλήξειε παραστὰς
τὸν δʼ Ὀδυσεὺς μετόπισθε λαβὼν ποδὸς ἐξερύσασκε,
τὰ φρονέων κατὰ θυμὸν ὅπως καλλίτριχες ἵπποι
ῥεῖα διέλθοιεν μηδὲ τρομεοίατο θυμῷ
νεκροῖς ἀμβαίνοντες· ἀήθεσσον γὰρ ἔτʼ αὐτῶν.

black and white photograph of a horse lying on the ground with trees in the background
Alexander Gardner.
Dead Horse of a Confederate Colonel.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Odysseus’s Sister and Names for In-Laws

Odysseus’ sister Ktimene is mentioned by the swineherd Eumaios but never by Odysseus. The scholia connect her to one of Odysseus’ companions. The evidence for this seems to be the fact that Ktimene was sent to Same for marriage (where Eurylochus is from) and a kinship term used for him by Odysseus. Also of interest, according to the scholion, Odysseus may have had more sisters.

Homer, Odyssey 15.364-41

Strong Ktimenê, the youngest of the children she bore.
I was raised with her, and she honored me little less.
But when we both made it to much-praised youth,
They gave her to Samê and received much in return
But she gave me a cloak, tunic and clothing
Dressing me finely and give me sandals for my feet
And sent me to the field. But she loved me more in her heart.

οὕνεκά μ’ αὐτὴ θρέψεν ἅμα Κτιμένῃ τανυπέπλῳ
θυγατέρ’ ἰφθίμῃ, τὴν ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων·
τῇ ὁμοῦ ἐτρεφόμην, ὀλίγον δέ τί μ’ ἧσσον ἐτίμα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβην πολυήρατον ἱκόμεθ’ ἄμφω,
τὴν μὲν ἔπειτα Σάμηνδ’ ἔδοσαν καὶ μυρί’ ἕλοντο,
αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ χλαῖνάν τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ’ ἐκείνη
καλὰ μάλ’ ἀμφιέσασα ποσίν θ’ ὑποδήματα δοῦσα
ἀγρόνδε προΐαλλε· φίλει δέ με κηρόθι μᾶλλον.

Schol. BW ad Od. 15.364 ex

“Ktimenê is the proper name of Odysseus’ sister, whom Eurylochus is supposed to have married.”

Κτιμένη] Κτιμένη κυρίως ἐκαλεῖτο ἡ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφὴ, ἧς
ὁ Εὐρύλοχος ὑπονοεῖται ἀνήρ. λέγει γὰρ “καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα
σχεδόν” (κ, 441.). B.Q.

“She bore the youngest of the children”: [this means] of the female children. For his father only had Odysseus [for a son]. There were more sisters of Odysseus.”

ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων] θηλειῶν γοῦν. μόνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσσέα πατὴρ τέκε (π, 119.). καὶ πλείους οὖν αἱ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφαί. Q.

Homer, Odyssey 10.438-442

“So he spoke, and I was turning over in my thoughts
As I began to draw the sharp-edged sword next to my thick thigh,
Whether I should cut off his head and drive him to the ground
Even though he really was my relative. But our companions
Were restraining me with gentle words from all sides.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε μετὰ φρεσὶ μερμήριξα,
σπασσάμενος τανύηκες ἄορ παχέος παρὰ μηροῦ,
τῷ οἱ ἀποτμήξας κεφαλὴν οὖδάσδε πελάσσαι,
καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα σχεδόν· ἀλλά μ’ ἑταῖροι
μειλιχίοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν ἐρήτυον ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος·

Schol. QVB ad Od 10.441 ex

Q “Instead of the genitive here, “even though he was an in-law”.

V. “Relative”

QV For he married Odysseus’ sister Ktimene.
B “even though he was my brother-in-law by my sister Ktimenê.”

καὶ πηῷ] ἀντὶ τοῦ, καὶ πηοῦ περ ἐόντος. Q. συγγενεῖ. V.
Κτιμένην γὰρ γεγαμήκει τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφήν. Q.V. γαμβρῷ
μοι ὄντι ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδελφῇ Κτιμένῃ. B.


“Pêos: A relative by marriage. In-law. Also, “in-lawness” [Pêosunê], relation-by-marriage. There is also Pêôn [genitive plural], for “of relatives-by-marriage. Homer has: “relatives and friends” [Il. 3.163]

Πηός: ὁ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενής. καὶ Πηοσύνη, ἡ συγγαμβρία.
καὶ Πηῶν, τῶν συγγενῶν. ῞Ομηρος· πηούς τε φίλους τε.

Etymologicum Gudianum

“…There is a difference between in-law and friend. People who have no connection to you by birth are friends. In-laws are related to you through marriage.”

διαφέρει δὲ πηὸς φίλου· φίλοι μὲν λέγονται οἱ μηδὲν τῷ γένει προσήκοντες·  πηοὶ δὲ οἱ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενεῖς.


For a beautiful narrative re-imagining of the life of Ktimene, see Mary Ebbot’s “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister”

Just Some Fun and Games After Dinner

Homer, Odyssey 8.97-103 (Alkinoos speaking)

“Now, let us go out and test ourselves at every kind of competition so that this stranger may tell his friends once he gets home how much we are better than the rest at boxing and wrestling, and jumping and running.”

“νῦν δ’ ἐξέλθωμεν καὶ ἀέθλων πειρηθῶμεν
πάντων, ὥς χ’ ὁ ξεῖνος ἐνίσπῃ οἷσι φίλοισιν
οἴκαδε νοστήσας, ὅσσον περιγινόμεθ’ ἄλλων
πύξ τε παλαιμοσύνῃ τε καὶ ἅλμασιν ἠδὲ πόδεσσιν.”

Schol. EQ ad 8.100 ex 6 asks

[now, let us go out..]“Why were the Phaeacians after dinner competing in the bare competition, the race and the double race, and not any other sport? For these are wholly the activities of leisurely people. Perhaps because it was necessary to make this suitable to their character, since the poetry is imitation [mimesis], [the poet] composed it thus. For they say “the feast and the cithara and dances are always dear to us”

νῦν δ’ ἐξέλθωμεν] διὰ τί οἱ Φαίακες εὐωχηθέντες ἠγωνίζοντο γυμνικὸν ἀγῶνα, δρόμον καὶ δίαυλον καὶ οὐ τὴν ἄλλην ἄθλησιν; παντελῶς γὰρ ἀπόνων ἀνθρώπων ταῦτα. ἴσως δὲ, ἁρμόττον τοῖς ἤθεσι δέον ποιεῖν, ἐπειδὴ μίμησις ἡ ποίησις, οὕτω πεποίηκεν. ὅτι δὲ τοιοῦ-τοι δῆλον. ἔφασαν γὰρ “ἀεὶ δ’ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη κίθαρίς τε χοροί τε” (248.).

Schol. HQ ad Od. 8.102 ex

[lemma] And how does he say later “For we are not preeminent at boxing or wrestling”? Certainly, in however much they are inexperienced with Odysseus, they think they conquer all of them in these games when in the actual performance once he speaks of himself, Odysseus boasted about the rest of the competitions, begging out only in the race and responding to the praise of Alkinoos when he said “but we run swiftly with our feet and are best at ships..” (247)

ὅσον περιγιγνόμεθ’ ἄλλων πύξ τε παλαιμοσύνῃ τε] καὶ πῶς φησιν “οὐ γὰρ πυγμάχοι εἰμὲν ἀμύμονες οὐδὲ παλαισταί” (246.); ἐν ὅσῳ τοίνυν ἄπειροί εἰσιν ᾿Οδυσσέως οἴονται νικᾶν ἅπαντας ἐν τούτοις, ὅτε δὲ τῇ πείρᾳ δείξας ἑαυτὸν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐκαυχήσατο περὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἄθλων μόνον παραιτησάμενος τὸν δρόμον, ἀντιμεταλαβὼν τὰ ἐγκώμια ᾿Αλκίνους φησὶν “ἀλλὰ ποσὶ κραιπνῶς θέομεν καὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι, ἀεὶ δ’ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη, εἵματά τ’ ἐξημοιβά” (247—249.).

Od. 8.131–139

“When they had all delighted their minds with the competitions,
Then Laodamas, the child of Alkinoos, spoke to them:
“Come, friends, let us ask the guest if he knows any sport
And excels at it. For he is not bad in respect to his form at least:
His thighs and shins and both hands above—
He has strong neck and great strength. He lacks little of youth
But he has been broken by many troubles.
For I say that nothing else overwhelms a man more terribly
Than the sea, even if he is very strong.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ πάντες ἐτέρφθησαν φρέν’ ἀέθλοις,
τοῖσ’ ἄρα Λαοδάμας μετέφη, πάϊς ᾿Αλκινόοιο·
“δεῦτε, φίλοι, τὸν ξεῖνον ἐρώμεθα, εἴ τιν’ ἄεθλον
οἶδέ τε καὶ δεδάηκε· φυήν γε μὲν οὐ κακός ἐστι,
μηρούς τε κνήμας τε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν μέγα τε σθένος· οὐδέ τι ἥβης
δεύεται, ἀλλὰ κακοῖσι συνέρρηκται πολέεσσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι κακώτερον ἄλλο θαλάσσης
ἄνδρα γε συγχεῦαι, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερὸς εἴη.”

Scholia T
[Lemma] [he got these things are also from meeting [him]. For they are using irony because they believe they are superior in this pursuit. And, moreover, he also suggests a good character, so that, if he should do poorly, he might have a good excuse in the ruining of the body.”

φυήν γε μὲν] καὶ ταῦτα ἐκ συμβαίνοντος· κατειρωνεύονται γὰρ οἱ ἔν τινι ἐπιτηδεύματι προὔχειν οἰόμενοι. μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ χρηστὸν ἦθος ὑποβάλλει, ἵνα, ἐὰν ἀποτύχῃ, συγγνώμης δικαίας τύχῃ διὰ τὸ κεκακῶσθαι τὸ σῶμα. T.


“Euryalus responded and answered to him.
‘Laodamas, you have spoken this plan according to what is right.
Now go out and call to him and tell him this idea.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ Εὐρύαλος ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε·
“Λαοδάμαν, μάλα τοῦτο ἔπος κατὰ μοῖραν ἔειπες.
αὐτὸς νῦν προκάλεσσαι ἰὼν καὶ πέφραδε μῦθον.”

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus discus

The Lyre of Achilles

Homer, Iliad, 9.185-189.

They came to the Myrmidon huts and ships
And found Achilles happy-hearted with his clear-toned
handsomely designed lyre with its silver bridge.
He’d gotten it from the spoils of Etion’s sacked city.
With it he cheered his heart when he sang of the fame of men.

Μυρμιδόνων δʼ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δʼ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δʼ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετʼ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας·
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δʼ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.

D Schol. ad Hom. Il. 9.188b [Erbse]

[Achilles] brought the lyre when he came to the foreign war.. In fact, they say, he found it unseemly to pass time without song.

. . . άνοίκειον γαρ είς πόλεμον ήκοντα κιθάραν έπικομίζεσθαι. | εύρόντα ούν, φησίν, παρελθείν ώς άμουσον άπρεπές ήν.

Plutarch. Lives (Alexander). 15.4-15.5.

When he, Alexander, went up to Ilium, he made offerings to Athena and poured libations to the heroes. He also anointed the grave of Achilles with oil, raced before it (naked, as is the custom) with his comrades, and placed garlands on it. He declared Achilles happy, for in life he had a faithful friend and in death a great herald of his name.

While he was there, touring the city and seeing the sights, someone asked if he would like to see Paris’s lyre. He had little interest in that, he said, but he would like to see the lyre of Achilles, the one to which he sang of the fame and deeds of brave men.

ἀναβὰς δὲ εἰς Ἴλιον ἔθυσε τῇ Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἔσπεισε. τὴν δὲ Ἀχιλλέως στήλην ἀλειψάμενος λίπα καὶ μετὰ τῶν ἑταίρων συναναδραμὼν γυμνὸς, ὥσπερ ἔθος ἐστίν, ἐστεφάνωσε, μακαρίσας αὐτόν ὅτι καὶ ζῶν φίλου πιστοῦ καὶ δὲ τελευτήσας μεγάλου κήρυκος ἔτυχεν. ἐν δὲ τῷ περιϊέναι καὶ θεᾶσθαι τὰ κατὰ τὴν πόλιν ἐρομένου τινὸς αὐτόν εἰ βούλεται τὴν Ἀλεξάνδρου λύραν ἰδεῖν, ἐλάχιστα φροντίζειν ἐκείνης ἔφη, τὴν δὲ Ἀχιλλέως ζητεῖν, ᾗ τὰ κλέα καὶ τὰς πράξεις ὕμνει τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἀνδρῶν ἐκεῖνος.

Color photograph of a black painted amphora with a red figure on it: Young man singing and playing the kithara.Terracotta amphora. Attributed to the Berlin painter. c.490 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Young man singing and playing the kithara.
Terracotta amphora. Attributed to the Berlin painter.
c.490 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

A Boy and a Girl

Ovid. Metamorphosis. Book IV. 373-388 (Salmacis and Hermaphroditus).

The gods answered Salmacis’s prayers,
for their intertwined bodies meld
and their faces resolve into one.
When you graft a branch to a tree’s bark
the two things fuse, and grow that way, before your eyes.
Just so, where their limbs meet in tight embrace
there aren’t two bodies now, but one with two natures:
boy/girl, neither/both–so they appear.

Where a man dove into the flowing waters
there you see him made a weak-limbed half-man.
And in his no-longer-male voice, his arms raised,
Hermaphroditus cries: “My father and mother,
do your son who bears both your names this service:
whoever should enter this pool a man
may he emerge half-man, enervated at once
by the waters’ touch.”

The parents of the two-natured child were moved
and agreed to drug the stream with filth.

vota suos habuere deos; nam mixta duorum
corpora iunguntur, faciesque inducitur illis
una. velut, si quis conducat cortice ramos,
crescendo iungi pariterque adolescere cernit,
sic, ubi complexu coierunt membra tenaci,
nec duo sunt sed forma duplex, nec femina dici
nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.

ergo ubi se liquidas, quo vir descenderat, undas
semimarem fecisse videt mollitaque in illis
membra, manus tendens, sed non iam voce virili
Hermaphroditus ait: “Nato date munera vestro,
et pater et genetrix, amborum nomen habenti:
quisquis in hos fontes vir venerit, exeat inde
semivir et tactis subito mollescat in undis.”
Motus uterque parens nati rata verba biformis
fecit et incesto fontem medicamine tinxit.

promotional image from the spice girls with the five mebmers vamping for the camera and the title "2 become 1: official music video"
Res ipsa loquitur

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Need To Plan A Holiday Meal? Grill Some Meat With Achilles

Homer, Il. 9.206–217

“He put a large meat block on a burning fire
And placed on top of it the back of a sheep and a fat goat
And a slab of succulent hog, rich with fat.
As Automedon held them, Achilles cut.
Then he sliced them well into pieces and put them on spits
While the son of Menoitios, a godlike man, built up the fire.
But when the fire had burned up and the flame was receding,
He spread out the coal and stretched the spits over it.
Once he put the meat on the fire he seasoned it with holy salt.
When he cooked the meat and distributed it on platters,
Patroclus retrieved bread and placed it on a table
In beautiful baskets. Then Achilles gave out the meat.”

αὐτὰρ ὅ γε κρεῖον μέγα κάββαλεν ἐν πυρὸς αὐγῇ,
ἐν δ’ ἄρα νῶτον ἔθηκ’ ὄϊος καὶ πίονος αἰγός,
ἐν δὲ συὸς σιάλοιο ῥάχιν τεθαλυῖαν ἀλοιφῇ.
τῷ δ’ ἔχεν Αὐτομέδων, τάμνεν δ’ ἄρα δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεύς.
καὶ τὰ μὲν εὖ μίστυλλε καὶ ἀμφ’ ὀβελοῖσιν ἔπειρε,
πῦρ δὲ Μενοιτιάδης δαῖεν μέγα ἰσόθεος φώς.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατὰ πῦρ ἐκάη καὶ φλὸξ ἐμαράνθη,
ἀνθρακιὴν στορέσας ὀβελοὺς ἐφύπερθε τάνυσσε,
πάσσε δ’ ἁλὸς θείοιο κρατευτάων ἐπαείρας.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ὤπτησε καὶ εἰν ἐλεοῖσιν ἔχευε,
Πάτροκλος μὲν σῖτον ἑλὼν ἐπένειμε τραπέζῃ
καλοῖς ἐν κανέοισιν, ἀτὰρ κρέα νεῖμεν ᾿Αχιλλεύς.

Related image

The Fairest of them All

“A great calm listens to me, where I listen for hope.”
-Paul Valery, “Narcissus Speaks”

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book III. 423-434 (Echo & Narcissus).

He desired himself without knowing it.
The one adoring was himself the one adored.
He pursues and he is the one pursued.
In equal parts he lights the flame and he burns.

How often his vain kisses for the trickster stream!
How often, grasping for the neck he saw there,
He plunged his arms amid the waters
And there failed to clasp himself!

What he sees, he does not understand.
Yet, what he sees he burns for.
What beguiles his eyes sustains his confusion.

Naif, why grasp in vain at a skirting image?
What you seek is nowhere.
What you love, just by turning away, you lose.
What you see is reflection’s shadow.
There’s nothing to it: it comes, it stays, with you.
With you it will leave, if you can leave.

Se cupit imprudens et qui probat, ipse probatur,
dumque petit, petitur, pariterque accendit et ardet.
Inrita fallaci quotiens dedit oscula fonti!
In mediis quotiens visum captantia collum
bracchia mersit aquis, nec se deprendit in illis!
Quid videat, nescit: sed quod videt, uritur illo,
atque oculos idem, qui decipit, incitat error.
Credule, quid frusta simulacra fugacia captas?
quod petis, est nusquam; quod amas, avertere, perdes.
Ista repercussae, quam cernis, imaginis umbra est:
nil habet ista sui; tecum venitque manetque,
tecum discedet, si tu discedere possis.

Figure with midlength brown-blond hair bent over, looking into his reflection
Caravaggio. Narcissus. 1597-1599. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. Rome, Italy.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Hearing and Seeing Evils: Returning to Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” Online

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1369

“Conjecture is not knowledge.”

τὸ γὰρ τοπάζειν τοῦ σάφ᾽ εἰδέναι δίχα.

Today the  Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre return to the scene of the crime, well murder, well, justifiable homicide of Agamemnon in a special presentation directed by Tabatha Gayle.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 855-860

“Citizens, this elder pride of Argives,
I will feel not shame at revealing
my spousal love to you. In time, human fear
turns to dust. I will tell you of my own
miserable live, not something I learned from others,
all that time when this man was below the city of Troy.”

ἄνδρες πολῖται, πρέσβος Ἀργείων τόδε,
οὐκ αἰσχυνοῦμαι τοὺς φιλάνορας τρόπους
λέξαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς· ἐν χρόνῳ δ᾿ ἀποφθίνει
τὸ τάρβος ἀνθρώποισιν. οὐκ ἄλλων πάρα
μαθοῦσ᾿ ἐμαυτῆς δύσφορον λέξω βίον
τοσόνδ᾿ ὁσόνπερ οὗτος ἦν ὑπ᾿ Ἰλίῳ

This week we trturn to the first play of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the Agamemnon. How famous is the story of Orestes and his father? So famous that it is the story Zeus contemplates at the beginning of the Homeric Odyssey as he looks down in frustration on the man who murdered Agamemnon. Atreus’ son, Agamemnon, appears in the middle of the epic (book 11) and at its end, complaining at each point bitterly about his disloyal wife, Klytemnestra, and praising the vengeance meted out by his son Orestes.

The story of the family of Agamemnon, however, extends before the Trojan War and then after until the death of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos. it starts back with Tantalos and Pelops in Asia Minor before it moves to the Peloponnese through sacrilegious meals, infanticide and fraternal war, all themes highlighted in the main cause of Klytemnestra’s rage, the killing of their daughter Iphigenia at Aulis.

If this story sounds familiar, it is because it is! In this series, we have heard variations of this tale from Sophocles and Euripides, contemplating both its beginnings and its ends. Indeed, ancient audiences would have been as familiar with the story as Zeus at the beginning of the Odyssey, shaking their heads and wondering how this version will play out.

This play begins with Agamemnon’s return home, but focuses on Klytemnestra’s anger and her power. It features some of the most challenging and memorable choral odes extant from the ancient world. It has a raving, yet lucid Kassandra. And at the core of the play, a murderous king’s bloody return home.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 914-917

“Child of Leda, guardian of my home,

“You have spoken aptly to my absence,
Since you have gone on at length. But proper praise
Ought to be a prize won from different sources.”

Λήδας γένεθλον, δωμάτων ἐμῶν φύλαξ,
ἀπουσίᾳ μὲν εἶπας εἰκότως ἐμῇ·
μακρὰν γὰρ ἐξέτεινας· ἀλλ᾿ ἐναισίμως
αἰνεῖν, παρ᾿ ἄλλων χρὴ τόδ᾿ ἔρχεσθαι γέρα


Tamieka Chavis
Rene Thompson
Zack Dictakis
Gabby Weltman
Special Guest and Director: Tabatha Gayle

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois

For a bloody strife.”
Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Producers and Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Executive Producer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 176-183

“[Zeus] puts mortals on
The journey of comprehension.
And made this the powerful law:
We learn by suffering.
Pain-recalling trouble trickles
Through the heart in sleep—
And wisdom comes just so
To the unwilling.
The gods seated on their sacred seats
Bestow a hard grace I think.”

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων
τεύξεται φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,
τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν πάθει μάθος
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ’ ἀνθ’ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ’ ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.

Virginia Woolf, On Not Knowing Greek

If then in Sophocles the play is concentrated in the figures themselves, and in Euripides is to be retrieved from flashes of poetry and questions far flung and unanswered, Aeschylus makes these little dramas (the Agamemnon has 1663 lines; Lear about 2600) tremendous by stretching every phrase to the utmost, by sending them floating forth in metaphors, by bidding them rise up and stalk eyeless and majestic through the scene. To understand him it is not so necessary to understand Greek as to understand poetry. It is necessary to take that dangerous leap through the air without the support of words which Shakespeare also asks of us. For words, when opposed to such a blast of meaning, must give out, must be blown astray, and only by collecting in companies convey the meaning which each one separately is too weak to express. Connecting them in a rapid flight of the mind we know instantly and instinctively what they mean, but could not decant that meaning afresh into any other words. There is an ambiguity which is the mark of the highest poetry; we cannot know exactly what it means. Take this from the Agamemnon for instance–

      ὀμμάτων δ’ ἐν ἀχηνίαις

          ἔρρει πᾶσ’ ᾿Αφροδίτα.

The meaning is just on the far side of language. It is the meaning which in moments of astonishing excitement and stress we perceive in our minds without words; it is the meaning that Dostoevsky (hampered as he was by prose and as we are by translation) leads us to by some astonishing run up the scale of emotions and points at but cannot indicate; the meaning that Shakespeare succeeds in snaring.

Aeschylus thus will not give, as Sophocles gives, the very words that people might have spoken, only so arranged that they have in some mysterious way a general force, a symbolic power, nor like Euripides will he combine incongruities and thus enlarge his little space, as a small room is enlarged by mirrors in odd corners. By the bold and running use of metaphor he will amplify and give us, not the thing itself, but the reverberation and reflection which, taken into his mind, the thing has made; close enough to the original to illustrate it, remote enough to heighten, enlarge, and make splendid.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 37-39

“This house itself, if it found a voice,
Would be able to speak most clearly. I am talking
Willingly to those who know and forget for those who know nothing.”

…οἶκος δ᾿ αὐτός, εἰ φθογγὴν λάβοι,
σαφέστατ᾿ ἂν λέξειεν· ὡς ἑκὼν ἐγὼ
μαθοῦσιν αὐδῶ κοὐ μαθοῦσι λήθομαι.